They call her Lenjimmy Busker, and the first of April is her favorite day of the year.
You didn’t know that, of course. By the time you had pulled in to the truck stop three hundred miles from nowhere, things like names and days and favorites had ceased to exist in your exhaustion-addled brain. You were dead on your feet and just about ready to keel over if not for the gurgling feeling in your belly. It was the kind of hunger that wouldn’t be satisfied by the half-empty bag of bugles in your passenger seat. The kind of hunger that needed warmth and protein; something to tear through with teeth and threaten to drip down your face.
You wanted a burger.
It takes a bit for you to get out of your truck normally, and this time was no different. Pat, pat, to check wallet in the pocket, keys out of the ignition and into the pocket, phone unhooked from the aux cord and… into the pocket. Hair? It had been too long since you showered, so you snagged a loose rubber band to tie it up and tuck under a cap. Jacket? On. Deodorant? Eh, who knew. Bra? Uncomfortable. Everything seemed to be in order. You were just unhooking your seat belt when a light tap came on your door.
Looking down, you saw her. A skinny thing, short and pale. Hair like corn silk; the kind that looked real pretty growing up, but when she hit sixty or so, would be drifting around her head like a cloud. If she ever even made it that far. Wide smile and some missing teeth. You couldn’t place her age. Older than twenty, younger than forty. The kind of face that just didn’t seem to age.
You rolled down your window. “Sorry doll, I don’t swing that way.”
She laughed, the kind of laugh where the head tilts back and mouth stretches wide. “Oh, that’s not what I wanted!” As she spoke, you realized her hand was resting on a tall case. Some kind of instrument next to her. “Got anything to eat?”
“Oh.” So she was that kind. Your mouth opened to tell her to scram, but something stopped you. You’re not quite sure what. Maybe it’s the look she had, a little too cheerful despite begging truckers for eats. Maybe it was the allure of whatever instrument she had hidden. Or maybe you were just too hungry and tired to be anything but generous. “In about ten minutes I will.” You nodded to the burger joint next to the gas station. “What’s your name?”
“Call me Lenjimmy. Lenjimmy Busker.” She stuck out her hand and you shook it.
“Lenjimmy Busker,” you repeated, shaking your head. “You’re a busker named Busker?”
“Not a busker. The busker.”
“Alright, the busker.” You smiled and went to unlock your door. “Call me Rugrat. And scootch, so I can get out.”
She scootched, pulling her instrument case back so it bumped over the concrete. “What kinda name is Rugrat?”
With a groan from aching muscles and empty belly, you stepped down out of the truck, letting the door fall shut behind you. “Same kinda name as Lenjimmy Busker.”
She smiled again at that.
The two of you walked across the lot, skirting around other trucks, some empty and some with all the shades pulled down. Lenjimmy occasionally rattled her knuckles across the sides of containers, making a merry drumming beat before she ran out of truck. You sideeyed her but said nothing. The woman was gonna do what she was gonna do; you felt that much already. Occasionally, she lifted up her instrument case, but the rest of the time it continued to bump and scrape its way behind you.
“What’s in the case?” you finally asked as you stepped through the automatic doors of the diner.
“Right,” you rolled your eyes. “I heard what you said, but what’s a zither?”
“My instrument.” She was grinning like it was all in good fun. You couldn’t help but grin right back.
“Alright, smart mouth. Anything else you can tell me about it?”
“I can play it real good. For you, if you want to pay me for it.”
You mulled that over as you went up to the counter and made the orders. You continued to mull it as the food came on plastic trays that the two of you brought over to a table. Lenjimmy somehow managed to balance hers with one hand, the other firmly dragging the zither case over the dirty tiled floor. She sat and immediately dug into the fries.
“Where are you from, Lenjimmy?”
She paused with a fry stuck halfway in her mouth. “You know just off the coast of New York?”
“I mean, sure, I guess. Never been, but I can imagine it.”
“Just off of there.”
“Just off the coast of New York?”
“Just off of, just off of the coast of New York.”
You shook your head again. This woman… “So you’re a fish?”
She laughed like you were the funniest thing in the world. “Nah.”
As you chowed down into your burger, you realized she watched you, that half of fry still stuck there. Your eating slows down. Now, you’ve never been one of those girls to worry about what people think about your eating habits, but something about Lenjimmy’s gaze made you feel self-conscious all of a sudden.
You swallow. “Yeah?”
“Can I have your real name?”
You never felt right describing what your mouth did as a smirk. It wasn’t that kind of smug expression; more like a half-smile of sarcastic disbelief- without being that dramatic. But most people call it a smirk. You smirked. “Why?”
“I’ll play you a song for it.”
“You play your zither for me and I give you my name?”
She shrugged. “Well, you already fed me, so I don’t really want to ask for money to do my usual busking. And I’m curious.”
“Wouldn’t being fed usually be enough of a payment?”
“Well, usually, if you hadn’t just offered it freely.”
You chuckled. “Alright, sure. My name for a song.”
She turned right there, cracking open the case and pulling out the instrument. It was hard to really describe a zither; or at least it was for you. You weren’t exactly a musical aficionado on the best of days. And this was already turning out to be some sort of trucker’s tale that you were looking forward to regaling your buddies on the radio with when you moved on. So it didn’t really matter so much what the zither looked like, and more that you saw the zither and you knew it to be a zither.
And when she started playing, you knew nothing more.
It was nothing like your usual tunes, not at all. The melody looped and wove an intricate tale of longing, loss, adventure and victory. If Lenjimmy hummed or sang at all, you wouldn’t have known. If there had been a shootout right outside, you would have been deaf to it. You just sat there, mouth agape and eyes fixed on the waif with her zither, hardly breathing as your half-eaten burger cooled in front of you.
And then, just like that, it was over.
Lenjimmy smiled at you like she hadn’t just blown your world and began to put the zither away. You shook your head, feeling it rattle into the very marrow of your bones.
“May I have your name now?” she said, clicking the box shut.
You replied with something. You must have, though as soon as the words left your lips, you weren’t quite sure what they were.
Lenjimmy laughed. And Lenjimmy grabbed a handful of fries to stuff them into her mouth. And then Lenjimmy was gone.